The Subversive Subtext of 1 Corinthians 8:6

July 11, 2020

6 yet for us there is one God, the Father. All things are from him, and we exist for him. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ. All things are through him, and we exist through him.

1 Corinthians 8:6

Written by Tom Rauter from the Brentwood Campus

What claim was Paul making in this verse that was especially dangerous for the Corinthian believers to affirm? In context, he was telling the church they should not be concerned about eating food sacrificed to pagan gods, because, he said in verse 4, “an idol is nothing in the world.” But although this was something they could safely do, there was another concern that brought a very real risk to these Christ-followers.

Paul was aware that there were many gods being worshiped in their city, so the claim that there was only one God might itself have brought some opposition. But there was a greater problem. To understand the full weight and radicalism of 1 Corinthians 8:6, we need to realize that in the first century, the Roman emperor, Caesar himself, was considered to be a “god” who demanded the worship of all his subjects.

What did this worship look like? Primarily, the people were commanded to address Caesar using the same words that Christians used to honor the true God. One of Caesar’s divine titles was kurios, which is translated “lord.” The word carries with it the meanings of both “master” and “divine being.” Everyone in the empire was forced to declare, “Caesar is lord!” Roman citizens were also required to acknowledge that Caesar was a “son of god” and their “king.” When Pilate asked the Jewish leaders, “Should I crucify your king?” they shouted, “We have no king but Caesar!”

Caesar took upon himself two other titles that rightfully belonged to Christ. One was the Greek word soter, which means “savior.” He claimed this because Rome had brought a real measure of peace to its empire through its strictly enforced laws and improved living conditions. Caesar’s final title and role was “high priest,” which in the Latin language used in Rome was pontifex maximus.

The boldness of the early church to make claims about Christ that directly challenged the cult of Caesar is astonishing. During the first three centuries of the Christian era, tens of thousands of Roman subjects accepted Jesus as their Lord, Savior, King and High Priest. As a result, many faced death in its most horrific forms.

But we need to realize that no rational human being willingly dies in defense of a myth. The fearlessness of the early Christian church gives us a powerful reason to believe in the deity of Christ and the truth of the gospel. This should also motivate us in our day to articulate and live out our faith boldly, confident that the God we worship is truly our Lord, Savior, King and High Priest.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. How does the study of the language of the early church provide insights Christians can apply today?
  2. After reading today’s devotional, do you have a clearer understanding of the risks the early Christians faced because of the cultural belief that Caesar was a god?
  3. What parallels, if any, do you see between what the early Christians faced in the time of the Roman empire and what Christians today face in a secular, post-Christian world?